What will the cancellation of AIPAC’s 2021 conference mean for Israel?


“The cancellation of next years’ policy conference is a missed opportunity, especially because of its timing.”

WASHINGTON – Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many international events had to cancel or to shift online. The UN General Assembly is the most significant diplomatic gathering in 2020 that is expected to take place remotely. Some conferences in the Jewish world, such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum, have moved to an online version, too. Last week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was the first major pro-Israel event that is planned for 2021 to be canceled due to COVID-19.

AIPAC has always been considered the largest pro-Israel gathering, with some 20 thousand people in attendance. Former US presidents and vice presidents, Israeli prime ministers and hundreds of community leaders and lawmakers from both countries would attend the event in a show of bipartisan support for Israel. The third day of each conference is usually dedicated to meetings between lawmakers and constituents on Capitol Hill in a lobby for specific policy items. Without these face-to-face meetings, what effect would the cancellation have?

AIPAC says that most of the advocacy work is currently done online. “Although we were forced to cancel next year’s policy conference, we will continue our robust and extensive efforts to strengthen the US-Israel relationship,” AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann stated.

“For instance, this past week, we conducted a virtual National Council Meeting with over 600 participants, and they virtually lobbied with hundreds of Members of Congress on our legislative agenda.”

AIPAC members lobbied for three main items: security assistance to Israel, the extension of the Iran Arms Embargo – S. Res. 509, and support US-Israel Cooperation on Coronavirus – HR 6829 and S. 3722.

A person familiar with the decision to cancel next year’s policy conference stated that it was impossible to move ahead with the plan to hold the event, since planning such a conference is taking a whole year.

“We’re in a situation that everyone is facing,” they explained. “We realized that because of the uncertainty, we couldn’t make plans to a conference as we expect.”

The person added that it is yet to be determined if AIPAC will hold an online event next year. Meanwhile, local advocacy programs are taking place via Zoom.

“The cancellation of next years’ policy conference is a missed opportunity, especially because of its timing – right after the elections, with either four more years of [US President Donald] Trump or a new administration,” former Israeli ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon said.

Ayalon said that “it could have been an excellent opportunity to strengthen the ties with the new Congress, as well, on crucial matters such as Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“AIPAC policy conference is significant for another reason,” he added. “This is the only forum in which Democrats and Republicans are sitting together united for Israel.”

“The AIPAC policy conference is a major event, but even without it, the organization and its members will have many opportunities to communicate their views to officials,” former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said.

When asked if the fact that the policy conference will not take place will affect Israel in the context of upcoming policy moves, such as Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, he said: “There are lots of reasons Israel should not proceed with unilateral annexation: for its Jewish and democratic future; for its relations with Palestinians, Jordan and Gulf Arab states; for its security; and for US security interests. It will also damage the bipartisan consensus on Israel in the US, which has always opposed unilateral measures.

“Losing a forum like AIPAC to explain that policy to Israel’s supporters from both parties is not the main reason, but perhaps one more reason they should not proceed with annexation.”

Originally posted at jpost.com

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